To numbers through the magic of art

Being able to count is something most of us take for granted, until we have to help a child learn their numbers. Then we remember that it is not so easy to grasp and remember those vital building blocks. A new book by Eleni Geroulanou wraps numbers up in palatable form, using paintings from the National Gallery to illustrate them and to elicit responses from young readers. With «Oi arithmoi tis Ethnikis Pinakothikis» (The Numbers in the National Gallery), published by Papadopoulos, Geroulanou has created a book that will appeal both to children and the adults reading with them. Employing a variation of the simple but smart idea she used in an earlier volume, «The Alphabet of the Benaki Museum» (pub. 2005), she selects significant works from the gallery’s collection, presents them facing a text, then asks how many of a certain thing are in the picture. The following double-page spread shows the number and its place in the series 1-10, facing another three paintings where the reader can find the same number of different objects, which they can then name. For example, Theodoros Manolidis’s still life shows a table laid simply and the question: How many apples are in the basket? Turning the page we see details of other paintings. There are eight colors in the ball beside the young boy in a portrait by Nikiforos Lytras. «Mayday in Corfu» by Haralambos Pachis shows eight streamers fluttering from a balcony. And in a portrait by Francesco Pitze, Kyriakoula Voulgari holds a fan with eight slats against the patterned fabric of her gown. The full paintings appear at the back of the book, out of order, so readers can do some more exploring to find where the details come from and what the entire painting depicts. Geroulanou shows how a simple exercise in learning the numbers 1 to 10 can lead a young reader beyond that first encounter with numbers into further dimensions. The process of checking what has been learnt is pleasurable and is rewarded with new images.